$2000 and under 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Last year most of the projector in this entry level class were fairly comparable. This year, there's a tremendous range of picture quality.
If you are shopping in this price range, you'll find that the two most expensive projectors are the ones that will give you the best performance, but a couple of others do a great job, for a good bit less.
At the top of the food chain, I like the Panasonic. It's a really fine projector for the average person, and it's also a very good one for the enthusiast. The picture is film-like, with very good skin tones. The Panasonic pretty much has the best blacks of the under $2K projectors. Overall, the Panny is natural looking, but not overly dynamic. Lacks the pop of a lot of other projectors.
Despair not, if you want some of that pop! If you are a smaller screen person, the picture of the Sharp XV-Z15000 is going to look just great - it's got that pop and wow, but it isn't bright enough for large screens. The Epson Home Cinema 8100 calibrates nicely, however, in terms of skin tones, the Epson tends to look just a touch "hard" compared to, say the Panasonic. (I'm quibbling here, most folks would think nothing of it.) And while I'm thinking about that "hardness", it's certainly no harder than any DLP projector with Brilliant Color engaged. You can always count on the Epson image to have more pop and wow factor than "natural".
If you really want to rock the house, the Mitsubishi HC3800's has really impressive color plus lots of lumens, for a dynamic image. The Mits definitely pops! It's rich darker colors are very DLP classic. When it comes to overall picture quality for under $1500 it's going to be tough to beat. Black levels are probably the best I've ever seen on a lower cost DLP that lacks a dynamic iris.
Of the three $999 projectors it stacks up this way: If you take the trouble to get them calibrated, or (more likely) use our settings, then I think you'll find that the Optoma and the BenQ will have slightly better color than the Vivitek. The Optoma will have the best blacks slightly over the the Vivitek and more so over the BenQ. The poor Vivitek is caught in the middle. (Brightness will be a key factor for people considering those three.)
It's almost like three price ranges, in one, when i comes to overall picture quality. Lots to choose from depending on the bucks. Start, though by figuring out which ones will work for your room layout.
$2000 - $3500 1080p Home Theater Projectors
Let's start with the Best In Class. That would be the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB. There's also the mostly identical Pro Cinema 9500UB, but it's more money for mostly three differences that matter to only a small percentage of buyers. For that reason, we gave the 9500UB a Special Interest award.
Yes, it's true: You can't beat the black level performance (of the Epson) without spending thousands more.
Color handling is certainly extremely good, but, as I've said repeatedly, if you insist on the the most dead on colors, and "film-like" natural look, the Epson comes up a little short, but it's well backed by lots of lumens for an LCD projector.
If, your situation, though requires more brightness, that is, if you really want that more natural look without giving up lumens, and aren't as black level crazy, you really should take a close look at the LG CF181D. Bright, great color, good blacks for the price range, (but no match at all, for the Epson). A sweet ride, especially for someone going with a large screen and a HC gray screen at that, to lower the black levels. OK, the LG sounds great, but what about the projector that it tied with, the W6000 from BenQ. Another exceptionally bright projector, it definitely can do battle with the LG, it at least matches it at black levels, has tones of lumens too, and is razor sharp, something still basically beyond the sharpness found on current LCoS projectors.
The LG picture might be a tad more refined than the BenQ, but the BenQ has them "look and feel" including rich dark colors and image depth that gives the BenQ projector some real bragging rights.
The thing is, this price class is dripping with impressive projectors. Let's not forget the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 a UHC projector at the bottom of the price range, not overly bright, but has a very strong following among smaller screen enthusiasts. (And that's despite the fact that we weren't able to get the colors quite as good as hoped, when we reviewed.)
Another really strong contender, that just missed a major reward (if that LG had arrived two weeks later - it wouldn't have been reviewed in time for the report), is the Sony HW15. This SXRD (LCos) projector is the latest version (HW10, and before that the VW40...) of Sony's "entry level" 1080p projector. It shares many of the same traits as the LG, and even has slightly better black level performance, but in general, I didn't find the slight black improvement enough to offset having a similar projector roughly twice as bright. The HW15, for example would be an excellent alternative, and even possibly the better choice over the LG for someone with a smaller screen, or a mid-sized screen and watching movies almost exclusively. The Sony just doesn't have the muscle for a lot of HDTV sports with some lights on.
And, finally, just in case you still aren't confused enough, there's the rather impressive Optoma HD8200. But for dynamic iris action that I thought was just a little too over the top, it's an excellent DLP, although not a bright one. It's not even quite as bright as the Sony (the Optomas about 500 lumens in best but a second worst in class 660 lumens in brightest mode. For those with white walls, (where much of the darker blacks are lost to reflected light), turn off the iris, and enjoy a really good projector. If you want the best reason for considering the Optoma over the Sony, or the lower cost Mitsubishi HC6800, it will be the razor sharp image, that the other two lack.